Michael Pollan talks about how cooking is the #1 way we can change the food system

Michael Pollan talks about how cooking is the #1 way we can change the food system

Michael Pollan wrote about agriculture in his New York Times bestseller The Omnivore's Dilemma and nutrition in In Defense of Food. Now, in Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (Penguin Press, April 2013), he homes in on what he believes is the single-most important step we can take to make our food system healthier and more sustainable.

Why is home cooking so important?

Cooking is key to changing our health and the environment. People who cook for themselves eat healthier diets. You could cook Twinkies, but it's really hard to do and you're not likely to do it more than once in a lifetime. You're not going to reform the way we farm and process food unless you cook. Local food isn't going to get big if people aren't cooking. If you let corporations cook for you, they're going to buy food from the biggest monocultures.

What are the three best tips you picked up writing this book?

Patience, presence and practice. To really be present while you're cooking and to not be fighting something else you want to do. Don't rush things. I think we have a tendency to cook too fast, with the burner too high. When you're sautéing onions, give them a half hour to cook and they'll get sweeter and more translucent and the dish will be so much more delicious. We're in this time panic and we feel like everything's got to happen in 20 minutes.

What about people who only have 20-30 minutes to make dinner on a weeknight?

Well, that same person has an hour for yoga or surfing the Web. We put pressure on the kitchen to save 10 minutes to do something else. I'm just arguing that it's important-for your health, your family life and your sanity.

What's one forgotten food?

Frozen vegetables are one of the great overlooked benefits of an industrial food system. They are often picked at their nutritional peak and frozen right away. I think frozen spinach is pretty good (and, by the way, it's already cleaned).

May/June 2013